In the northern New Jersey town of Mahwah, an expanding Orthodox community has attempted to set up an eruv, a sort of legal fiction that allows for carrying out of doors on Shabbat. The town’s government recently ruled that the eruv—which consists of small pieces of white PVC piping attached to utility poles—violated local zoning laws. On Wednesday some parts of the eruv were vandalized. The editors of NorthJersey.com take issue with Mahwah’s decision:
Signs are prohibited on trees, rocks, and utility poles in Mahwah. [But an] eruv is a reasonable religious accommodation; it is not a sign. . . . Orange & Rockland Utilities, which owns the poles, has given permission. . . to install the pipe.
We understand some may not like the aesthetics of the piping, just as some people don’t like solar panels attached to utility poles. But, first, these are utility poles, not majestic oaks. And second, the ability to worship without government interference is a constitutional right. . . .
Mahwah’s Mayor Bill Laforet said [that the eruv decision] “sends a very strong message to those who choose to violate our sign ordinances.” It sends a very different kind of strong message about Mahwah. . . . An online petition against the eruv, titled “Protect the Quality of Our Community in Mahwah,” lists over 1,200 supporters. Some of the comments are ugly: “This group of people are known for entering a community and taking it over for their own advantage. They are known for taking a lovely community and turning it into a run-down, dirty, unwanted place to live.”
That is not a comment against signs, but one against Orthodox Jews. Some white PVC piping is not an overt expression of any faith. It is not akin to placing crosses on public structures; it’s plastic piping on utility poles with permission from the owners of the utility poles. . . . The eruv should stay.